At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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'Black Pearl Sings' was a story playwright Frank Higgins couldn't ignore
Kansas City Star, March 4th

For one thing, a play depicting Ledbetter would require an actor who could convincingly play the 12-string guitar, an exceedingly rare commodity. But there was another reason he began constructing the story from a feminine perspective — he was caring...Read more

The Furious Seasons Release 'My Love is Strong' on Stonegarden Records
Broadway World, March 4th

Bad Man uses 12 string guitar, sultry organ and a stripped down feel to tell the story of a man who is tired of being the good guy with his young crush, "I wish I had what it takes/To break your young heart/It should be quick, it should be easy/It's so...Read more

Former Guitar Teacher Slams Taylor Swift's “Pushy Momager” (REPORT)
In Touch Weekly, March 3rd

Looks like Kris Jenner isn't the only one who knows how to pimp out her children manage her kid's career! A former guitar teacher, Ronnie Cramer, has opened up to 'Heat' magazine about how Taylor Swift's mom, Andrea, groomed her daughter for ...Read more

Tuning In To The Lead Belly Sound
WBUR, February 26th

“Lead Belly, who died in 1949, cast a giant shadow on the music that followed him, directly influencing performers from Mr. Dylan to Kurt Cobain with his versatility, his gravelly voice full of power and emotion, and his pioneering 12-string guitar...Read more

Win An Ozark 3806 12-String Guitar With National Learn To Play Day, February 24th

Stereoboard and Music For All, organisers of the National Learn To Play Day to be held on March 21, have got together with Stentor Music to giveaway a Ozark 3806 12-string guitar worth over £260. The competition closes on Monday March 23 at 12pm - get ...Read more

'King Of The 12-String Guitar': Lead Belly's Legend Lives On
WABE 90.1 FM, February 23rd

George Harrison famously said, "No Lead Belly ... no Beatles." Musicians as diverse as The Weavers and Kurt Cobain have played Lead Belly's songs to enthusiastic audiences, but many Americans sing his lyrics without ever realizing that he wrote them...Read more

Kentucky man gets time-served sentence for stealing guitars from Forks ..., February 17th

Couch signed his own name and provided his driver's license when he sold the 12-string guitar, according to court documents, which allowed police to track him. Couch apologized to the court for his behavior and said he had apologized to Farley at his ...Read more

12-String Setup Secrets
Premier Guitar, February 9th

A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more